Dagny Taggart’s long journey back to The Shire continues, over the will of the free market, in Atlas Shrugged: Part II—The Strike, the middle installment of an epic six-hour temper tantrum based on Ayn Rand’s Objectivist novel. Picking up right where the last one left off—albeit with a new cast, a new director, and perhaps a little more fiscal discipline in the production budget— Part II hits the current political scene in stride, incorporating the Occupy Wall Street protests into its dystopian vision of makers and takers, the 1 percent who innovate and the 99 percent who sponge off the profits. As with Part I, Rand’s polemics translate awkwardly to drama, making robots out of another corral of veteran character actors. But the specific problem with Part II is that a second act of huffery and puffery don’t get it anywhere: After the cliffhanger of one major industrialist “going Galt,” it offers another two hours of major industrialists going Galt. Those who want to see what these geniuses do will have to wait until Part III. And until then, there’s a wedding-reception toast about the value of money to tide them over.
Proving the theorem from Todd Solondz’s Palindromes that different actors can play the same role without losing much continuity, Samantha Mathis plays Dagny with all the lifelessness Taylor Schilling brought to the original role. In Part I, Dagny revived the Taggart railway company—and her slumbering libido—by getting into business with Henry Reardon (now played by Jason Beghe), a steel-company magnate who laid down magic track across Taggart Tunnel, euphemistically speaking. But with gas prices spiking to $40 per gallon, unemployment on the rise, and global economic collapse imminent, the liberal government, with its Fair Share measures, wants a big piece of both businesses. While other geniuses drop out of society—leaving the cryptic note, “Who Is John Galt?”—Dagny and Henry continue to try to keep their businesses alive and serve the stupidheads who patronize them.
Part II introduces another piece of world-changing magic: a mysterious machine that can harness power from static electricity in the air, thus buffeting Atlas Shrugged’s capitalist utopia of mass transit and alternative energy sources. There’s also some scary business about an emergency government plan to force people to stay employed, shut down the patent office, and sign all inventions over to Big Brother. Atlas Shrugged is premised on the idea that the world only has a few true geniuses—great industrialists, inventors, musicians, and artists, too, albeit plainly none involved in the making of the Atlas Shrugged movies—and “going Galt” means they’re going to take their toys and go home. The arrogance of that is astounding, and it robs both parts of this adaptation of empathy, which is the primordial soup of good drama. Without it, Part II continues to leave Rand’s philosophy to function only in the abstract.